Saturday, April 20, 2013

Colonel David Mickey Marcus: Casting A Giant Shadow Indeed

This week's blog entry is courtesy of our Guest Blogger, Diane Besand. Diane worked with the Italian Jewish Cultural Center of Calabria (IjCCC) to discover and embrace her Jewish roots. Currently she is preparing for conversion and aliyah in Israel.  

I marvel as I look back on these last few weeks of spring...It is our Jewish Spring to coin a phrase.  We have gone from celebrating Pesach and our freedom from slavery in Egypt, to Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), and then Yom Hazikaron Israel's Memorial Day, with the mourning our dead in wars and terror attacks, including our war of Independence in 1948. 

In Israel these days are marked by great solemnity and respect. Both days at precisely 11:00 AM, a siren wails throughout the country.  People stop what it is they are doing and stand in complete silence, including cars on the highway. The silence is deafening.  Israeli's leave their cars and stand beside them.  Nothing moves. No one speaks.  In the Kanyon, In the Merkaz, in the Shuk everything stops, everyone stands in total silence out of respect for our dead until the haunting wail ends. Israeli's take their mourning seriously, knowing full well the cost of freedom.

But joy cometh in the morning and we celebrate yet another miracle with our Independence Day (Yom Ha’atzmaut). These are times to mourn, and times to celebrate, times to remember and times to look forward to the Sukkot. I am spending these days in America, but my heart is in Israel and it hurts not to be there.  

My mind wanders back to 1944 when another American, Colonel Mickey Marcus, a non-practicing Jew was sent to Europe and according to both1My Jewish Learning and  2Jewish Virtual Library Marcus “witnessed first-hand the results of the atrocities that had occurred in Nazi death camps. In each camp there were piles of uncounted Jewish corpses,” along with those who were so malnourished, they looked like walking dead. Following his debriefing, “Marcus was subsequently named chief of the War Crimes Division with responsibility for planning the procedures used at the Nuremberg trials. Through his experiences, he came to understand the depths of European anti-Semitism. Never previously a Zionist, he became convinced that the only hope for European Jewry lay in a Jewish homeland in Palestine.”

“In 1947 Marcus returned to civilian life, and shortly after the UN voted for the partition of Palestine  paving the way for the creation of a Jewish State.  Almost immediately David Ben Gurion requested Marcus to recruit an American officer to serve as military advisor to Israel.  Unable to recruit one of his friends, Marcus volunteered himself. Not being keen on the idea of Marcus serving himself, The U.S. War Department finally agreed, under the conditions that Marcus not use his own name and rank and disguise his American military record.” 1, 2, 3

“By January 1948 changing his name to Michael Stone, Marcus arrived in Tel Aviv to assume command of the Israeli forces and was confronted with an impossible situation. The older, widely separated Jewish settlements in Palestine were surrounded by a sea of hostile Arabs who also surrounded the newly created Jewish settlements. Israel would have indefensible borders. Its military had virtually no air power” with only a few crop dusters, “a few tanks and ancient artillery pieces, very little arms or ammunition”, and untrained conscripted recruits fresh from Europe. Many of these conscripts had never held a rifle, let alone fired one. “The Haganah and Irgun were effective underground organizations, but had no experience as a regular national army. The Israelis faced well-supplied Arab armies that were determined to drive the Jews into the sea.”1, 2 Other than Israel having one of the finest and well equipped military in the world today, their desire to drive us into the sea has never changed.

Immediately after the declaring of Israel's independence, 15 May 1948, we were attacked from all sides.  Eventually Jerusalem came under siege and was ready to fall. The road to Jerusalem was under Arab control and blocked preventing food, water, guns and ammunition from reaching it. “Marcus ordered the construction of a road to bring men and equipment to break the Arab siege just days before the United Nations negotiated a cease fire. Israel had withstood the Arab assault with its borders virtually intact. In gratitude, Prime Minister Ben Gurion named Mickey Marcus Lieutenant General, the first general in the army of Israel in nearly two thousand years.” 2

“Tragically, Marcus did not live to see the peace. Six hours before the cease-fire began, while headquartered in the village of Abu Ghosh near Jerusalem, Marcus could not sleep. He walked beyond the guarded perimeter wrapped in his bed sheet. A Jewish sentry saw a white-robed figure approaching and not understanding Marcus's English response to his challenge, fired a single, fatal shot. Marcus's body was flown to the United States for burial at West Point, where his tombstone identifies him as "A Soldier for All Humanity." Hollywood would later immortalize Marcus in a movie, "Cast a Giant Shadow", starring Kirk Douglas as Mickey Marcus.“Ben-Gurion put it simply: "He was the best man we had." 1, 2, 3

Tonight as darkness descends on Israel's Independence Day for another year, another spring, I cannot help but think of Mickey Marcus. He was a man propelled by destiny. Finding his Jewish roots, he experienced the results of a world gone mad and the height of anti-Semitism and evil, (Yom HaShoah). He fought and helped Israel keep her new Independence (Yom Ha’atzmaut), and finally he gave his life for that cause, and we honor him and all the other fallen who died that Israel might exist (Yom Hazikaron). Colonel David Daniel (Mickey) Marcus-Israel's American General....An American Jew forever an Israeli.
Background information on Colonel David Marcus was taken from the following sources:

1.  My Jewish Learning “Mickey Marcus: Israel’s American General”
2.  Jewish Virtual Library “Mickey Marcus 1902-1948”
3.  Wikipedia  "Mickey Marcus"